Mississippi River Priority Site

Bayou Bartholomew, Louisiana

Reforestation will help mitigate some climate change impacts in the world’s longest bayou.

Bayou Bartholomew begins in central Arkansas and flows about 359 miles southward, entering Louisiana and emptying into the Ouachita River. Said to be the world's longest bayou, it has never been channelized. Its 1.1-million-acre watershed, which has been designated a priority conservation site by The Nature Conservancy, still contains bottomland forests that harbor important populations of many species, including the threatened Louisiana black bear and high-quality examples of numerous plant communities.

Although some drainage canals and levees have been constructed in the watershed to support agricultural activities, much of it continues to be exposed annually to significant over-bank flooding. The flooding cycle, sediment deposition, fish stock replenishment and other ecological factors are considered to closely approximate historic conditions. Because of the watershed's size, current condition and relatively intact water regimes, its species and communities are considered, with the support of appropriate conservation actions, to be very viable.

Bayou Bartholomew and its watershed shelters a remarkable assemblage of 117 species of freshwater fish and at least 40 species of mussels, including more than half of all mussel species known in Louisiana and at least three mussel species currently listed by the federal government as endangered or threatened.

Strategies and Progress

Much of Bayou Bartholomew's watershed has been deforested and converted to cropland, and a significant portion of its remaining forestland has been managed for timber production for decades, thus altering to some extent its composition and structure. Other conservation concerns include excess sedimentation, environmental stresses from biocide and irrigation practices, and illegal dumping.

The Nature Conservancy has developed a strong partnership with the non-profit Bayou Bartholomew Alliance. Since its incorporation in 1995, the Alliance has been instrumental in the development of a restoration plan for the bayou's watershed. Goals include:

  • preserving water quality,
  • enhancing wildlife and fish habitat and related recreational pursuits,
  • improving benefits to landowners adjacent to the bayou, and
  • educating the public about the bayou's ecological significance.

The Alliance and its many partners have planted more than 1.2 million native tree seedlings, removed 140 tons of trash dumped illegally along the bayou, provided financial assistance to landowners enrolled in the federal Conservation Reserve and Wetlands Reserve programs, and purchased no-till drills, equipment that contributes to sustainable agriculture, and rented them to landowners.

Originally focused on the Arkansas portion of the stream, the Alliance, assisted by the Conservancy, is now expanding its efforts to encompass the bayou's entire interstate watershed.

In 2009, the Conservancy launched a new effort at Bayou Bartholomew that will result in the reforestation and reconnection of marginal farmland and help mitigate some of the impacts of climate change.

The project is part of a larger Conservancy effort to create a big contiguous block of forest within the Lower Mississippi Valley, restoring critical wildlife habitat.

The Conservancy is purchasing 247 acres at Bayou Bartholomew, which is adjacent to other protected lands and a number of parcels enrolled in the Conservation Reserve and Wetland Reserve programs.

In 2010, the Conservancy will plant trees on the farm fields. Over time as the forest matures, these trees will store thousands of short tons of carbon dioxide.